Monday, October 27, 2014

I touched my laptop screen and I liked it

I finally decided that I needed a new laptop. My 2008 HP Mini was really showing it's age and I wanted to do some work with VMs that would tax my desktop. I did my homework and was content to buying low end laptop, hoping that Linux would be able to detect the 'standard' configuration without much fuss. Through a surprising turn of events, I ended up with a Lenovo IdeapadS410p Touch, a laptop with a touchscreen. It was an Intel i5 machine with 4GB of RAM (which I bumped up to 8GB), both VGA and HDMI outputs and a DVD drive to boot.
English: Touchscreen
Kids love a touchscreen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So how did it came about that way? I had done my homework and gone to buy the Lenovo laptop that didn't have an OS bundled or the 'DOS version' they called it. How many people buying new computers remember what the heck is DOS, is another question. But that range only came with AMD CPUs and having done that in the past (and got nothing other than a warm lap and mediocre performance), I decided to go for the Intel version, the i5 specifically. But to keep my options open, I decided to also keep an open mind on the the AMD A10 CPU which was by most reviewers as good as the i5 although meant to compete with the i7s.
Next was to find someone who knew what they were talking about. Too many times, I have been besieged by salespeople who knew little about what they were selling. It was time to give the right guy their due. I finally found a chap who gave me several options and let me try the laptops. Finally, I decided to ditch the A10 and went firm with the i5. He found me two models that fit the bill, a Windows 8 machine with a touchscreen and the OS-free version without a touchscreen.
For some reason, the non-touchscreen Lenovo laptop was slightly pricier and was a different model range. I did get the notion that the guy wanted to get rid of it because it was an older model. A quick check showed it was still listed as current on the Lenovo website, so I figured that it wasn't all that old. I figured I might as well see what the fuss was about Windows 8 and the touchscreen interface.
No doubt, the touchscreen interface is a evolution of input technology. It's popularity on the smartphone (and before that, the PDA) showed it's potential to be the way we will ultimately interact with computers. But change can be both positive or negative. Quite often, the desire to change overcomes the rational of judging change itself. I was always against the idea of touch screens on PCs because it takes the hands away from the keyboard and the mouse. That seemed to me like a productivity drain. I had the same problems when the mouse was being introduced to PCs that were essentially being used as data terminals. Productivity sunk because clerks, bank tellers and in some cases, cashiers were taking too much time navigating the interface with the mouse. Previously the Enter key would bring them to the next field or button. They could have used the keyboard TAB key to move between the fields but because some lazy system analyst / software architect couldn't be bothered to tell the programmer the sequence of field entry, it was years before the front-liners became as efficient as before. To me the touchscreen could be potentially that. Technology purely for the gee-whizz sake without consideration to it's impact.
It turns out that Lenovo was on to something with their laptop series that could fold back the keyboard to prop the screen. It made it easier to use the touchscreen. Although my Ideapad couldn't do that, I found that with a graphical interface, the touchscreen became an interface of immediacy and full of intent. When I touched a button, I meant it. I didn't have to move my mouse across the screen. I just pushed the X in the corner to close the window or swiped the application away. Moving my finger downward on a document scrolled it like I would on my phone. It just felt right. With Windows 8, it just seemed a good fit. Although, I did felt like grabbing my screen and walking away with it like a tablet.
But the Lenovo laptop was not without problems. There has to be a reason why this laptop was discounted to the point it was cheaper than it's lower-range cousins. It seems the problem with this form factor was the keyboard. Devoid of any feedback, it was hard to type on for a long time without it bothering me. But I had my Lenovo wireless keyboard from my PC which gave good feedback and has a decent key travel distance. That and my trackball for fine-tuning the control of the mouse.

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